The Prime Social Experience
“That white chef hat trumps everything,” says Andy Parker. When Chef Marco or Chef Billy come out from the kitchen and interact with the guests, it pushes the dining experiece to the next level. People love seeing that white hat out on the floor.”
Parker is the owner of Prime Social Kitchen, and he’s being all too modest. Remember that golden boy in high school who was good at everything and nice to everyone? That’s Andy.
Being the editor of this magazine comes with incredible perks. When Andy invited me to join him for a special evening at Prime, I was in, with photographer Greg Halinda in tow.
At Prime Social Kitchen, you’ll notice some fine print on the menu. It says “We believe here at Prime that ‘our kitchen is your kitchen,’ if you have any specific dietary requirement or if you would like something not currently on the menu, please ask. If we have the ingredients, we would be pleased to accommodate your request.” This means that if they have the ingredients, they will make it, even if it’s not on the menu! This is a nod to an old-school tradition of hospitality. That Andy takes the time to mingle with patrons each night and encourages his kitchen staff to come out and chat with diners is a testament to his belief that “our kitchen is your kitchen,” as he explained to me over some of Grant Burge’s Holy Trinity Barbossa, which is one of the 60+ wines in the cellar at Prime. In fact, Prime is working to have the largest selection of wine in the region, and Andy often places orders based on customer recommendations. “I’m not here to put out a pretentious wine list or stuffy menu – everything we do is collaborative. It’s about giving people what they want – it’s so simple,” he says.
Case in point? I’m notoriously picky. I love bruschetta, but I don’t like onions or balsamic vinegar. Though Chef Billy Malawi had already created a custom menu for us that evening, he said he was up for the challenge of making a bruschetta without the traditional ingredients. What he created was nothing short of a miracle. By improvising ingredients, Chef Billy served a bruschetta that spoke to the true essence of the dish – rustic, simple, and flavourful without the bad breath that typically follows. If it goes on the menu, he should call it Date Night Bruschetta.
If the kid making your sub is a sandwich artist, then Chef Billy is a culinary maestro. My experience with the menu went something like this:
Me: “Hey Billy, I don’t like coconut shrimp, but I love the idea of coconut chicken. What do you think?”
Billy: “On it!”
Me: “And I don’t think I like the sauce that you’re describing so – “
Billy: “I’ll make a deconstructed version of it, so you can try it but it won’t smother your dish”
Me: “For dessert, what about…”
Billy: “Dessert is gonna blow your mind! We’re gonna take you back to your childhood!”
Chef Billy is forward-thinking and creative. One step ahead, and excited about challenges. A foodie, but not a food snob. Ask him what his favourite dish was, growing up. You’ll see what I mean.
The menu was superb. Honey and pecan crusted lamb lollipops, blueberry infused baked goat cheese, beef Tornada (a ridiculously moist filet mignon accompanied by a red wine demi glace) served with rustic scalloped potatoes, Chilean sea bass with spinach/mushroom Florentine, coconut chicken strips with a tangy tropical sauce, house-made apple crumble served from a hot skillet and then...the kicker...banana splits!
I went a little bit nuts for the demi glace. “I might have used a very expensive red wine in that one,” said Chef Billy, looking at Andy from the corner of his eye. “Hey – I don’t care. That was the best demi glace I ever had,” said Andy. “I just want to make everything better. If using a higher quality wine improves the dish, then so be it.”
It seems to me that this is Andy’s approach not just to his restaurant, but to the community as well. In the past year alone, the Prime Social Kitchen team played a huge role in various charity functions (most recently, they sponsored the bar at Keyano Theatre’s “Affair for the Arts” and offered up a live auction item at the Northern Lights Hospital Foundation’s “Spring Fling”). The night of my visit, Prime was hosting a smaller group that was raising funds for playgrounds in Ghana.
Throughout the meal, our table is visited often. A few local big-shots, heavily tatted site guys, and even business “competitors” all stop by at various points, to shake Andy’s hand and thank him for something or other. He’s always quick to defer credit to his kitchen staff.
I asked him what it takes to get a seat at the best table, with the host at Prime. “What does it take? A chair,” he laughs.
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